At a special public hearing held by the Ulysses Town Board Nov. 18, the board heard comments by the public—some favorable, some critical—regarding the proposed new Town zoning laws. Proposed laws regarding the town’s agricultural land were so disagreeable to the chair of the Ulysses Agriculture Committee, Chaw Chang, that he verbally resigned from his position during the meeting.
The Ulysses Town Board, in conjunction with a Town Zoning Update Committee, has been working on updating the zoning laws for about five years. Several provisions that were originally suggested by the committee were ultimately taken out of the draft laws because of negative reaction by Ulysses residents. The two most controversial laws that were not included, said Ulysses Town Environmental Planner John Zepko at the public hearing, were laws that would restrict the number of residential subdivisions in the agricultural zone and laws that would increase the size of the conservation district near Cayuga Lake.
Approximately 20 members of the public attended the public hearing. One of the more contentious parts of the proposed laws was a paragraph restricting the size of buildings near Cayuga Lake. The new laws state that new residential structures built in the lakeshore district must be limited to a footprint of no more than 2,000 square feet, and some people attending the meeting said they disagreed with both the law (Article VIII, paragraph N) and the fact that it was added to the draft zoning relatively recently, giving little chance for public comment.
“A 2,000 square-foot limitation is most unreasonable,” said Tim Fallon, Ulysses resident. “If someone wanted to have a two-car garage and small work shop with perhaps 750 square feet, it would leave only 1,250 square feet for single floor living space. A footprint with that limitation would be totally unacceptable.”
Ulysses resident Peter Houghton agreed, arguing that although it is possible to build a larger two-story house on a 2,000 square-foot footprint, the laws unfairly restrict the options for those who require one-story living.
After the meeting adjourned, Elizabeth Thomas, Ulysses Town Board chair, said the current zoning laws allow for the construction of a house with a roughly 2,200 square-foot footprint if the house is on one acre or less, which she said most lakeshore houses are.
“The lots down there are small,” Thomas said. “There is erosion and stormwater, and it’s hard to meet setbacks from creeks. It’s not a great construction area, considering the topography.”
Others objected to provisions regarding agricultural land. Chang, who is owner of Stick and Stone Farm in Ulysses as well as (now-former) chair of the agriculture committee, said the laws come at a cost of those who live in a “traditionally rural manner” and work where they live.
“I have been stating this again and again for the last three or four years…it’s obvious to me the Town does not hold our opinion in high regard,” Chang said.
Several members of the public also took issue with a specific proposed law that restricts the size of buildings on agricultural land. The law states that the maximum floor area of a new non-agricultural building in the agricultural/rural zone cannot exceed 5,000 square feet except for accessory dwelling units, which can only be up to 1,200 square feet. The maximum floor area of a new agricultural building can be no larger than 20,000 square feet under the new zoning, and farm operation/accessory commerce buildings are limited to less than 5,000 square feet. Several of the members of the public found these restrictions onerous to local farmers.
Two members of the public said they did not think the zoning was restrictive enough, commenting that the Town should have put more protective measures in place to preserve agricultural land.
“It is deeply disappointing to see the lack of any real progress on the other stated major goal of the zoning update: ‘strengthening protection of farmland and open space,’” said Roxanne Marino in a written statement to the board (she made a similar statement out loud to the board as well).
“The Purpose Statement of the proposed new zoning for the A/R zone includes that the zone is ‘primarily intended to preserve farming and agricultural lands and also to maintain open space,’ and that ‘the AR zone protects existing agricultural areas by limiting suburban and urban development,’” she added.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome,” Evan Roemer, Ulysses resident, told the board. “In the end the board dropped all limitations on subdivision development rather than find a fair compromise and ended up with no limitations on sprawling development. And the Town chose to ignore the Town comprehensive plan.” He urged the board to revisit the zoning laws again and to find a compromise that will “not leave the town vulnerable to sprawl.”
The Ulysses Town Board members will review the public comments and discuss any changes that may be made to the proposed zoning law at one or more of their upcoming meetings, to be held Nov. 26 and Dec. 10.
“I am always impressed by the amount of time and attention our citizens devote to following the plans and proposals of the town,” said Ulysses Town Board Vice-Chair Nancy Zahlar after the meeting. “I think every comment made was thoughtful and considered, and I think the Town board is going to seriously look at all of the recommendations and comments that were made here tonight.”